Drug and Alcohol Testing Update
The Permanent Bar
By Stephen P. Prentice
July / August 1998
Many moons ago, we did a piece on drug testing and described the nonsense that our industry would be saddled with forever. We all saw it coming, more expense, more bureaucrats, and simply more hassle. Well, it sure has arrived in spades during the past few years.
We have noted a little bit of sanity recently however. The FAA drug enforcement people have now reduced the random rate of alcohol testing for those involved with safety-sensitive functions from 25 percent to 10 percent. The reasoning is that the current rate of violations occurring is about 0.08 percent! This means that less than one half of one percent of the workers in the field was detected with alcohol use. So the testing "pool" can expect less random testing from now on.
Not so with drugs however. The random testing rate for drugs still sits at 25 percent because of an alleged current violation rate of 0.71. Still less than one percent, but it is over one half of one percent. The admitted reason for this is simply that these figures include the majority of positives that come from pre-employment testing. Pre-employment tests keep people who are users otherwise, out of the industry completely and therefore should not be included in the statistic for the industry. Not so says the FAA, and the excessive costs for random drug and alcohol testing continue.
We just heard from two technicians who were sitting in a car eating their lunch and having a can of beer with their sandwiches. The beer supply was contained in a small cooler on the seat, which was closed, and they were not drinking anything when the inspector approached. There were two empty beer cans in plain sight on the floor of the pickup. This scene should be of some interest to technicians because it does happen from time to time, especially on hot summer days.
The two men worked for an FAR 135 air carrier at a small Midwest airport. Unfortunately for them, their PMI (FAA Principal Maintenance Inspector) happened by just at this time. He parked his car next to theirs, looked in, and began chatting with them. He obviously spotted the cans on the floor and asked if they had just finished them. They said "yes" and that they were on their lunch hour and off duty anyway. He asked further where they got the beer and they responded that they had purchased it at a store where they picked up the sandwiches. He also asked them about who told them they were "off duty" on their lunch hour.
What do you think of the scene? Are there any violations? You had better say yes!
THE PERMANENT BAR
Let's review this somewhat obscure rule. Too many technicians that I have recently talked with at air carriers and repair stations are unaware or just uninformed of what is called the Permanent Bar as it relates to Drug and Alcohol testing in our industry. Here is the rule...
PERMANENT DISQUALIFICATION FROM SERVICE
FAR 135 (Air Taxi Operators and Commercial Operators), 121 (Certification and Operation: Domestic, Flag, and Supplemental Air Carriers and Commercial Operators of Large Aircraft), and 145 (Repair Stations) Air Carrier Activities.
The Drug Bar: "An employee who has engaged in prohibited drug use during performance of a safety-sensitive function is permanently precluded from performing that safety-sensitive function for any employer." FAR 121 Appendix I, VI, F2.
The Alcohol Bar: "An employee who violates 65.46a(c); 121.458; or 135.253c, or who engages in alcohol use that violates another alcohol misuse provision of 65.46a; 121.458; or 135.253c, and had previously engaged in alcohol use that violated...(above provisions)...is permanently precluded from performing for an employer the safety-sensitive duties the employee performed before such violation." FAR 121 Appendix J, V, B.
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